Trump is misleading the public on her Russia policy because he’s afraid of looking like Putin’s stooge.
During his chaotic 77-minute press conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump was on the defensive about his relationship with Russia. One key point he made, attempting to prove that that he wasn’t soft on Moscow, was to paint the previous administration as weak in handling the Kremlin — by claiming again that Hillary Clinton gave Russia “20 percent of our uranium” as secretary of state.
Here’s what he actually said during a rambling attempt to convince reporters that his Russia strategy was sound and not the product of some covert relationship that compromises the integrity of his policies:
By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia. Just so you understand that. Tomorrow, you will say, "Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia; this is terrible." It is not terrible.
It is good. We had Hillary Clinton try to do a reset. We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things.
But nobody talks about that. I did not do anything for Russia. I've done nothing for Russia. Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks?
The very first part of what Trump said, about it being desirable to get along with Russia, makes sense. It might seem counterintuitive during a time when much of the American public is enraged at Russia for allegedly engaging in election-related cyberattacks and finds the idea of cooperating with its authoritarian government to be distasteful. But powerful countries getting along as well as they can with their powerful rivals can be a good thing, as it makes it less likely that they'll end up in costly conflict with each other, even if their interests are at odds on many matters. And that is indeed why, as he points out, the Obama administration made serious attempts to try to improve US-Russian ties.
But the claim that Clinton gave 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia is incorrect and clearly misleading. Trump is referring to Russia’s nuclear power agency purchasing a majority stake in a Toronto-based energy company between 2009 and 2013. The company had mines and land in a number of US states with huge uranium production capacity — a move the US State Department signed off on. But PolitiFact did a thorough fact-check of the claim last year when Trump first made it on the campaign trail, and found the following faults with it:
- The mines, mills, and land the company holds in the US account for 20 percent of the US’s uranium production capacity, not actual produced uranium.
- The State Department was one of nine federal agencies and a number of additional independent federal and state regulators that signed off on the deal.
- President Obama, not Secretary Clinton, was the only person who could’ve vetoed the deal.
- Since Russia doesn’t have the legal right to export uranium out of the US, its main goal was likely to gain access to the company’s uranium assets in Kazakhstan.
Crucially, the main national security concern was not about nuclear weapons proliferation, as Trump suggests, but actually ensuring the US doesn’t have to depend too much on uranium sources from abroad, as the US only makes about 20 percent of the uranium it needs. An advantage in making nuclear weapons wasn’t the main issue because, as PolitiFact notes, “the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.”